When Josefina was two weeks old, she was abandoned in a dumpster.
Whether she was the product of a premature feline mother that couldn’t handle the stress of kittens or she was the victim of callous owners, we will never know.
But had the garbage man at the corner of Hangzhou’s Tianmushan and Moganshan roads not found her that same day, she and her two siblings would surely have perished in the late April snow.
For months my girlfriend, Mairead, had tried to convince me to adopt another kitten. We already had one in China and that was enough for me. I grew up with dogs and was only just getting used to our new feline friend Oscar.
When the garbage man found the three kittens in the dumpster, he took them to the nearby foreign language institute where Mairead taught English. Upon entering the school, two Japanese teachers jumped at the opportunity to raise kittens. They quickly snatched up the two healthier kittens, leaving Jose, the runt of the litter, in a box by herself.
When Mairead wrapped up her class and returned to the office, she found Jose in the box. Knowing that I didn’t want another cat, she offered the kitten to a colleague whose wife immediately rejected the proposal.
With Jose having nowhere to go and Mairead unable to reach me, she brought home the dirty, shivering two-week-old kitten.
It was essentially Mairead’s dream come true: saving the life of a pathetic baby animal in urgent need of help. Jose was so small and weak that Mairead had to assist her with bowel movements.
We bottle fed her into health and she began to grow and get stronger. She started playing with Oscar and eating solid food. Over the next seven months, not only did she turn into a strong and genial cat, but she also became our close companion.
When we decided in September of last year that we would return to the U.S. come winter, we also decided to bring back the cats. They had helped us through rough times in a very foreign place and we couldn’t abandon them.
This was no easy task and getting a cat out of China is much more difficult than getting one into the U.S.
For one, the procedures for taking an animal out of China are opaque at best. To get the cats out would require jumping through dozens of bureaucratic hoops and spending exorbitant amounts of time, energy and patience. Additionally, we knew that we had to fly direct because neither Hong Kong, Taiwan nor Japan — which are frequent connecting routes back to the U.S. — would allow a cat from China into their country without first being subjected to a lengthy quarantine period.
For months we dealt with the necessary paperwork and got the cats their necessary shots. We became friendly with some of the animal exportation officials and went to meet the government vet.
Then, almost one month before we were set to leave and two days before heading to India for a three-week trip, Jose came down with a case of ringworm on her ear. This was a big problem because in order to leave China, the cats had to be in pristine conditions.
We put one of those plastic cones around her head so that she couldn’t scratch her ear open and we began vigilantly applying anti-fungal cream. We resisted taking her back to the vet’s office because we thought that she might have contracted the fungus from there, and we also didn’t want to alert anyone of her condition.
We left Jose under the care of a close friend and left for India. Our friend persuaded us, saying, “It won’t get better any faster if you’re just sitting here.”
While traveling we worried about the issue and Mairead was committed to staying in China for a month or two afterwards if Jose’s ringworm didn’t clear up.
Fortunately, when we returned her ear looked normal again.
During our final 10 days in China, we had to run a sprint through government procedures. For whatever bureaucratic reason, the bulk of what we had to do to get the cats back to the U.S. could only be done within a 10-day window of leaving.
On our first day back we went to the vet’s office for a checkup and then headed to the exportation examiner in a building on the other side of the city. But when we arrived at the Hangzhou center for exportation, we discovered that the entire building was being renovated.
“The exportation offices have been moved to a building ten miles east of here,” said a security guard.
With our cats held safely in their little mao bao or cat bags, we ran after a cab. Since it was close to rush hour we had to fight for a ride, and I’ll never forget watching Mairead hip check a man twice her size as he reached for the passenger door.
We raced across the city and got to the offices just before they closed. The examiner inspected the cats and said that they both looked healthy. Over the next ten days, we made an additional three trips to the exportation offices.
Then, on the day that we left, we rode a bus 100 miles north to Shanghai’s Pudong Airport with all of our belongings, the two cats and their necessary certificates. In the end we chose to fly United because they allowed us to take both of our cats on board for the 15-hour flight back to the states.
What I find most moving about Jose’s story is not that she simply made it to the U.S. — although that too is a miracle — but that she went from lying helplessly several hours away from death, as a weak little kitten caught in the grasps of late winter, to living a healthy existance with two companions (we adopted Mairead’s parents’ cat) in beautiful Middlebury, Vermont.
If such a momentous change of fortune in one life can be brought on by the simple actions of a garbage man and two regular people, then what other small efforts might each of us make in our lives to help those in need, and what wondrous changes might then befall upon our world?
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].